Phillies vs. Cardinals Game 1 trends, matchups and keys originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Here we go: The Phillies' first playoff game in 11 years.
The Phils and Cardinals take the field at 2:07 p.m. Friday afternoon on ABC in the first game of a best-of-three series.
Zack Wheeler, who threw 14 scoreless innings against the Cardinals in July, starts for the Phillies. Jose Quintana, who pitched to a 2.01 ERA in 12 starts with St. Louis after a deadline trade from Pittsburgh, goes for the Cards.
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The Cardinals finished 93-69 this season, winning the NL Central comfortably. Similar to the Phillies' success against the Nationals and Marlins, the Cardinals did what they needed to do to the bad teams in their division. They went 38-19 against the Reds, Pirates and Cubs, taking two of every three.
St. Louis had the NL Central wrapped up relatively early, leading by no fewer than six games after Aug. 24. The Cards didn't play all that well over the season's final three weeks, going 6-9 in their last 15 games and scoring two runs or fewer in nine of the final 16.
But this is still a very talented roster with different waves of veteran presence and playoff experience. Imagine being a young Cardinal like Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson or Tyler O'Neill and having vets at the tail end of their primes to emulate in Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, as well as organizational legends at the end of their careers in Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.
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Goldschmidt is the favorite to win NL MVP after hitting .317/.404/.578 with 41 doubles, 35 homers and 115 RBI this season. Arenado, who hit .293/.358/.533 with 42 doubles, 30 homers, 103 RBI and his typical amazing defense, could place in the top five of voting as well. Neither had a strong September but both were remarkably consistent from April through August.
Pujols enjoyed a resurgent season, hitting his 700th homer the same season Wainwright and Molina broke the record for most games started by a battery. But it wasn't just a cool story for Pujols, he was legitimately dangerous over the season's final two months, hitting .324 with a 1.128 OPS and 17 home runs after Aug. 10.
Donovan, a left-handed-hitting 25-year-old, was extremely valuable for the Cardinals this season and might finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year race behind Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider. He played five different defensive positions, hit .281 with a .394 OBP and finished the season as the Cardinals' leadoff hitter. Tommy Edman, a fast and smart baserunner who was 32 for 35 in stolen bases, had been in that spot most of the year.
Goldschmidt is just 5 for 23 (.217) lifetime against Wheeler. Arenado is 5 for 14, all singles. Combined, they have one extra-base hit and one RBI in 41 plate appearances against the Phillies' ace.
Edman is 1 for 9 and Corey Dickerson is 3 for 14, each with four strikeouts. Surprisingly, Wheeler has never faced Pujols.
The Cardinals' starting pitcher, Quintana, does not go deep into games. He will likely be out no later than after Bryce Harper's third plate appearance unless he's pitching a gem. The Phillies' top two left-handed hitters, Harper and Kyle Schwarber, are a combined 1 for 12 off of Quintana with a single and five K's.
Starters Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery will all be available out of the bullpen with Miles Mikolas slated to start Game 2 against Aaron Nola.
Rhys Hoskins has seen Quintana well, reaching base in 8 of 15 plate appearances with a homer. Nick Castellanos has seen him nearly as much as the rest of team combined -- he's 11 for 49 (.275) with a pair of homers.
A number of Phillies will be making their postseason debuts -- Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Hoskins, Alec Bohm, obviously the rookies. Harper and Castellanos have never been part of a playoff series win. This is the opportunity everyone in the Phillies' clubhouse has been waiting for.
Wheeler against a mid- to back-end starting pitcher in Quintana is a decent setup for Game 1. Though they didn't clinch until Game 160, the Phillies head into the playoffs with a rested bullpen and the one-two punch they envisioned kicking things off.